TEFL Terminology

TEFL terminology
What's the difference between TEFL, TESL and TESOL? What's a DoS, an L1 and ESP?

The TEFL profession uses a whole range of acronyms, terms and abbreviations. Here’s a guide to some of the more common ones you’re likely to encounter.

TEFL and ESL definitions

EFL English as a Foreign Language
ESL English as a Second Language
TEFL Teaching English as a Foreign Language
TESL Teaching English as a Second Language
TESOL Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

What’s the difference between TEFL, TESL and TESOL?

TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language, and traditionally refers to teaching in non-English speaking countries. TESL stands for Teaching English as a Second Language and refers to teaching in English speaking countries, to non-native speakers living or working there.

In practice, the acronyms TEFL and TESL are often used interchangeably, and both are covered by the all-encompassing TESOL, which stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.

ESL and EFL teaching terminology

CALL Computer Assisted Language Learning

CALL refers to language instruction through the use of technology. It usually refers to using language learning software to teach specific language points.

CEFR Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is a standardised system of describing ability in a language, allowing anyone involved in language learning and teaching to easily gauge the competencies of a learner. It also helps employers and educational institutes to see if a candidate has the level of language they require. It consists of a 6 point scale, ranging from A1, through A2, B1, B2, C1 and up to C2. A language learner with a C2 level is a competent user of that language.

DOS Director of Studies

A Director of Studies is an academic manager in a language school or institute. The role of the DoS usually includes recruiting, advising and developing teachers, planning courses and curricula, scheduling and coordinating classes, meeting clients and liaising with sales and management staff.

EAP English for Academic Purposes

EAP involves teaching students who are studying, or who intend to study, in higher education in an English speaking country. This could include teaching study skills or preparing students for an exam such as the TOEFL.

ELL English Language Learner
ELT English Language Teaching or Training
ESP English for Specific Purposes

ESP refers to teaching English to a learners with specific needs and objectives, and usually refers to teaching professionals in a specific field. For example, doctors may require medical English, bankers may require financial English, company directors may require language for negotiating or making presentations.

K12 Kindergarten to 12th Grade

K-12 is not specific to English language teaching, but you may see job advertisements asking for K-12 ESL teachers. The term is common in the USA and refers to teaching children from kindergarten through to 12th grade.

L1 A student’s first language
L2 A student’s second language

If someone asks you if you use L1 in the classroom, they are asking if you use your students’ native language, or if you only use L2, i.e. English.

STT / LTT Student Talking Time / Learner Talking Time

The amount of time that students (learners) spend talking during a class (ideally as much as possible).

TPR Total Physical Response

A teaching methodology based on language learning through physical movement.

TTT Teacher Talking Time

The amount of time the teacher spends talking during a class.

YL Young Learners

Most language schools and institutes make a distinction between Young Learners (usually up to the age of about 16) and adult learners, and offer different courses accordingly.

TEFL teaching qualifications

CELTA Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults

The CELTA is one of the most internationally recognised and accepted entry-level qualifications. The old name for the CELTA was the CTEFLA (Certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language to Adults). There are many other entry-level qualifications.

CELT-P Certificate in English Language Teaching – Primary

A qualification for teaching 6-12 year old learners. Previous Young Learner qualifications offered by Cambridge English were the CELTYL (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Young Learners) and the Young Learner Extension to the CELTA.

Delta Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults

The Delta is a higher level qualification, usually studied after two or more years of teaching for career progression. The old name for the Delta was the DTEFLA (Diploma in Teaching English as a Foreign Language to Adults).

TKT Teaching Knowledge Test

The TKT focuses on the core teaching knowledge needed by teachers, whatever your background and teaching experience.

PGCE Post Graduate Certificate in Education

PGCE is a UK teaching qualification required to teach in the state sector, and is not specific to language teaching.

IDLTM International Diploma in Language Teaching Management

The IDLTM is designed for teachers looking to take on management responsibility.

ICELT In-service Certificate in English Language Teaching

ESL exam acronyms

BEC Business English Certificates
BULATS Business Language Testing Service
CAE Certificate in Advanced English or Cambridge English: Advanced
CELS Certificates in English Language Skills
CPE Certificate of Proficiency in English or Cambridge English: Proficiency
FCE First Certificate in English or Cambridge English: First
IELTS International English Language Testing System
KET Key English Test or Cambridge English: Key
PET Preliminary English Test or Cambridge English: Preliminary
TOEFL Test of English as a Foreign Language
TOEIC Test of English for International Communication
YLE Cambridge Young Learners English Tests

Acronyms for Professional Associations

IATEFL International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language
TESOL TESOL International Association

Have a look at our TEFL A-Z for more ELT terms and definitions.

Keith Taylor
Keith is the co-founder of Eslbase and School of TEFL. He has been a teacher and teacher trainer for over 20 years, in Indonesia, Australia, Morocco, Spain, Italy, Poland, France and now in the UK.


  1. Thank you a lot for these tables. It helped me a lot to arrange and refresh my knowledge on TEFL acronyms.
    I’m also curious whether somebody knows if there are some free courses for teachers to prepare themselves for CELTA certificate?
    Thank you in advance for the replies.

  2. That is a great and pretty complete list, thank you.

  3. I would like to know the meaning of this acronym ss used in TEFL teaching

    • Avatar photo

      Hi Aminou, can you tell me which acronym you are referring to?


Add a comment

Take Our Online Grammar Course

Learn all the grammar you need to feel confident as a teacher